On Black Out Tuesday, also known as June 2nd, the Internet was working on a racial activism campaign, absorbing the bloodstream of media resources that have flooded our timelines over the past few days. Following the horrific death of George Floyd at the hands of police brutality, we witnessed a globally scheduled “Blackout Day” in memory of Floyd’s passing.
The music industry proposed a day of disruption, recharge and reflection, urging society to refrain from disseminating information and opt to log-off. Hashtags dominated the net, and artists such as Lizzo urged followers to not use the Black Lives Matters hashtag to avoid crossing the line between causes.
As well-intentioned as people are to encourage change and advocate for equality, a “call to silence” symbolizes a deprivation of speech and shrinks conversations—at a time when these conversations are needed now more than ever. Instead of posting informative and educational content, celebrities, influencers and those who wish to be allies chose to post often context-less black squares. Simply, this resulted in utter havoc and adversity on social media.
“This is not helping us. Bro, who the hell thought of this? People need to see what’s going on,” tweeted American rapper Lil Nas X yesterday, speaking to the issues many had with what was perceived to be an empty gesture. He has a point: this moment came as many in the industry chanted about racial oppressions of black individuals, not only as it relates to police brutality, but as all industries have long exploited black acts. Tuesday’s performative demonstration does not acknowledge nor does it fix the issue.
Mediatic tokenistic social media posts that often have zero action attached to their message are often embraced by brands and creatives in the fashion industry as well as a way to signal their virtues without any direct action around how to change. A brand like Celine is an example, which pledges to be against oppression and discrimination. Yet when viewed from the outside, you'll see that the vast majority of its model casting is white or from caucasian provenance. So what does its statement, and the subsequent black square really mean in all of this? Without real action communicated to its following, the answer is next to nothing.
“This isn’t just a 24-hour initiative,” US music industry execs Jamila Thomas and Brianna Agyemang rightfully clarified. “We are and will be in this fight for the long haul.” While it was hard to get this right, as promoting a 400-year-long oppression in a three-word sentence is diminishing, it was exciting for some corporations such as Black Lives Matter and Colours Of Change to take the lead and boost Blackout Tuesday’s hashtag into something of greater depth and thought.
The true point is, there’s no need for a black square of solidarity to suppress brutality. Not now, when speaking up is imperative. In fact, to say that a square is the method to foster dialogue undermines a long history for black people around the world. Empathy does not require silence to prevail, it requires a dialogue that if not tackled reasonably, springs ignorance.
Most of the world isn’t actively, vocally racist. But the performative nature of this "black square of silence" leaves me questioning: What change does a surface-level activist post do on a media platform, when there’s a sea of human cases around the world being murdered on a constant basis?
So here are some simple questions you can ask yourself: Have you taken time to make a donation to affordable charity organizations? Have you checked on your company’s inclusivity policy to ensure it meets fair standards and protects you? Have you taken some time to read and gain a better understanding of this movement, its history and relevant repercussions?
Then, put yourself in the shoes of a black man who has just lost the life of a close family member. You open Instagram and see a flock of black squares. What could come to mind? Would you feel a black square could regain the life of the lost one? Or that it was doing anything to heal your pain?
While supportive actions of Black Lives Matter have increased solidarity levels, they fall under major threats too, because this call-to-action is about broadening social matters rationalise the racist factors in times of crisis. Moreover, as the world has posted black square shapes on social media, it’s now time to soul-search, read, and reflect on the prejudice that has been historically institutionalized on black culture years apart.
But racial injustice is facing a turning point. And for this, the only blame falls onto human ignorance, and to the lethal degree of white privilege. The black community has faced grievous backlash over the centuries, but we as a collective have a big agenda including correcting the wrong by improving media advocacy. What we must now do is abolish the collective ignorance of performative actions of sharing on social media which, if not tackled judiciously, result in more deaths of minorities who feel blamed for raising safety concerns.
Chidozie Obasi is a journalist and writer based in the United Kingdom. He specializes in fashion, entertainment, and culture, covering subjects ranging from social activism to game-changing supermodels.